WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 9

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my ninth WWW:

1) Mirrors:
Kiefer Sutherland can act like Jack Bauer in every role he gets from now until the end of his career, and I won't mind at all. The low whisper elevating to roaring when he gets upset. The penchant to solve problems by shooting at them. And of course, the trademark “DAMNIT!!”, of which Mirrors offers several. It's a recipe for a drinking game, is what it is. In Mirrors, Sutherland plays a cop struggling to kick a drinking habit and get back on the force after being kicked off for shooting a man. He's living with his sister and trying to reconcile with his wife so he can be with her and their children. Taking a job as a night watchman in the burned out remains of an old department store, his life gets truly horrific and interesting. Because there's something on the other side of the mirrors, something evil, and not just the trapped spirits of people who died in a fire. Mirrors offers some genuinely frightening moments, and some genuinely cool effects when the reflections don't match our “reality”. It's a ghost story that culminates in a twist, one you'll appreciate even more on a second viewing. I liked the concept a lot, and enjoyed the performances of both Sutherland and Amy Smart, who portrays his sister. American adaptations of Eastern movies(in this case South Korean) aren't always the greatest, but this one isn't bad, not bad at all.

2) Max Payne:
I liked it, although I need to lead with a disclaimer that I've never played the video game on which it's based. So I can understand why fans might be upset with significant changes from the source material. Judging it strictly as a film noir detective story in which Mark Wahlberg seeks to solve and avenge the murder of his family, it's a formula, but it works. It doesn't really matter if you guess who betrays him, or what the deal is with the supposedly supernatural elements in the film. I personally wouldn't have minded if it went the direction I thought it would based on the trailer, but the route they went worked as well within the film's internal logic. Amaury Nolasco gets to play a sly and formidable nemesis, and Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as a tough DEA agent out to avenge her own loss. Who knew her voice had other settings besides “annoying”? In the end, Max Payne won't win any awards but it's a nice little popcorn diversion with a lot of action and special effects, and will definitely entertain if you're looking to kill just over an hour-and-a-half. And yes, I did just give a semi-positive review to a film starring a guy last seen talking to plants which includes in its supporting cast a slightly pudgy Chris O'Donnell. I guess anything is possible.

3) Bee Movie:
Bee Movie offers the sort of vivid and dizzying highly rendered and textured animation that you'd expect from Dreamworks. And it has all the wit and sarcasm you'd expect from Jerry Seinfeld. Kids will be in awe of the pretty colors and amusement park quality of the factory and living quarters within a beehive, while parents will chuckle at a few clever references to things kids won't get, such as a recreation of the surreal pool scene from The Graduate. There are great jokes at the expense of both Ray Liotta and Sting, and those guys were great sports for lending their voices. Bee Movie starts off promisingly enough, as Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson graduates and learns that whatever job a bee chooses, he chooses for life. So he ventures outside the hive for the first time in an effort to see what's out there before his future is set in stone. That much you probably got from the trailer. The film derails a little in the middle and goes on an odd, environmentally conscious tangent in which Barry sues the human race for using honey. There are a few contrived plot twists and deviations from the main story before it gets back on track. It's worth it for the animation, recognizing which celebrity voices and personal friends of Seinfeld showed up for recording sessions, and for a couple of great exchanges of dialogue. Leave plot expectations at the door, and go along for the ride, which is not unlike the erratic flight pattern of a bee. Hmm. Maybe it was intentional...

4) Road House:
Sadly, Patrick Swayze lost his cancer battle this week, succumbing at the all-too-young age of 57 and joining the absurd number of famous people to slip off the mortal coil this year. I can't say Dirty Dancing or Ghost were ever my cup of tea, but then I don't think I've ever given either film a fair chance. I've seen most of both on television, but really should rent them and watch them properly. I did enjoy his earlier work in films such as Red Dawn and The Outsiders, and I remember watching him in the North and South miniseries with my folks when I was a kid. Of the Swayze films I have seen, Point Break was probably my favorite, so it shouldn't be much surprise that I loved Road House. I'm honestly not sure why I hadn't seen it before. It has all the over-the-top extremes of heroes and villains in the classic Western model of one man cleaning up a corrupt town, complete with the ‘80s flavor of shows such as The A-Team. The film is brimming with testosterone, violence, and nudity, with a good balance of topless chicks and Swayze's bottom to put something in there for everybody. Swayze plays Dalton, a “Cooler” for a bar who is approached by another bar owner who desperately needs his services. A Cooler differs from a bouncer in that his job is to coordinate the others and try to diffuse a situation before resorting to violence. In most cases, Dalton never loses his temper, and uses his mind to take confrontations outside and avoid them entirely. But when the time comes that ass-kicking is his only option, he's more than capable of dishing out pain, from kicks and punches to ripping out a throat with his bare hands. There are some other familiar faces as well, including Sam Elliot as his mentor and Kevin Tighe(a character actor I recognized from Lost as well as Freaks and Geeks) as the bar owner. Ben Gazzara is his main opposition, playing a man who controls the town. If they want booze, they pay him. If they don't want their businesses trashed by his henchmen, they pay him. Dalton stands up to him, and tension escalates when he wins over a pretty young doctor that Gazzara had his eye on. The edition I rented also had a special feature, a commentary track by celebrity fans Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, who nail just how awesome the “Swayze-dog” is and how the cheese level of the film elevates it to greatness. It's an archetype that makes no apologies for what it is, and takes every opportunity to show how everyone in Dalton's orbit, male and female, are overcome by his very presence. The best part of the commentary is how they occasionally cite Chuck Norris Facts, substituting in Dalton:
“Dalton doesn't sleep; he waits.”
“Dalton once ate an entire cake before his friends could tell him there was a girl inside.”

and my favorite:
“Dalton originally appeared in the Street Fighter video game, but was removed by Beta Testers because every button caused him to do a roundhouse kick. When asked bout this ‘glitch,' Dalton replied, ‘That's no glitch.'
Road House features a healthy Swayze in his prime, beating up the bad guys, defending the little guys, and impressing the ladies. He plays the classic larger-than-life legendary figure, and probably could have played a great superhero if given the opportunity. He will definitely be missed.

5) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa:
If I had to describe my response to the first Madagascar, the word I'd use would be “underwhelmed”. I enjoyed it, and it definitely had its moments, especially with the penguins, but for the most part it wasn't anything special and didn't stand out against other Dreamworks films or the work of their computer animating competitors, Pixar. I don't know whether it was the slightly geometric forms of the animals or the thin line between the voice actors and the “characters” they were portraying, but it didn't quite do it for me. I have to say the sequel was a huge improvement over the first one. It picks up right where we left off, with our escaped zoo animals on the title island. Actually, we start with a flashback to the childhood of one of our characters prior to the title card and a brief recap of the first film, and this includes the talent of the late, great Bernie Mac and the singular gleefully evil rasp of the one and only Alec Baldwin. Soon the stage is set for our animals to make the return journey home, which results in a detour in which they discover just where home really is. Each of the four principal animals(Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith) goes through journeys of self-discovery in which they prove things to others or to themselves. The first film introduced these characters, so in this one they had room to grow, and I think that helped make for a better movie as well.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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